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Formats
Ebook Details
  • 02/2018
  • 978-1-4834-7905-7
  • 228 pages
  • $8.99
Paperback Details
  • 03/2018
  • 978-1-4834-8094-7
  • 190 pages
  • $14.99
Rhys McCarney
Author, Illustrator
Inventions that Built the Information Technology Revolution
The book begins with a brief history of the telecommunications and computing industries. Descriptions of key inventions of the 1960s–1980s, appropriate for undergrad students in any STEM field or an interested lay reader, include optic fiber, diode lasers and field effect transistors. The book next explores US intellectual property law and describes changes that occurred because of high technology. The submarine patent is an important case in point. The final portion discusses how the structure of patent law led to the meteoric rise of the software industry and concurrent declining stature of hardware. Indeed, patent law determines the distribution of wealth in the IT world. Among the examples discussed is how Bill Gates built a personal fortune that’s roughly one half of the entire market capitalization of Intel or IBM.
Reviews
McCarney draws on a doctorate in physics and years of experience as a corporate researcher to create a fascinating account tracing the development of the modern world’s defining technologies. Using detailed charts, diagrams, and formulas, McCarney outlines how each major communications breakthrough, starting with telegraphs, telephones, and radios, yielded a new frontier of development and a new source of profit for burgeoning tech companies. The detailed scientific history is interwoven with stories of human greed and ambition, revealing the ample political backstabbing, legal battles, and business machinations that accompanied the development of now-ubiquitous items. Among other tales, McCarney recounts the cliffhanger story of the race to patent the first working telephone, which saw Alexander Graham Bell and his competitor Elisha Gray submit documents to patent offices on the very same day. Whether McCarney is exploring the use of liquid as a medium for capturing and transmitting the human voice—Gray’s approach for his abortive device—or showcasing how diode lasers reinvented modern communication, his focus remains on the tireless human impulse toward innovation. McCarney’s impeccable research is certain to interest and inspire STEM students, while the behind-the-scenes drama will appeal to nonspecialists. (Self-published.)
Clarion ForeWord Reviews

Inventions that Built the Information Technology Revolution is an insightful look at the technological underpinnings of the modern world, and a realistic, no-holds-barred accounting of who’s benefited and who’s been shortchanged.

Rhys McCarney’s Inventions that Built the Information Technology Revolution chronicles how computers and the internet changed society and the world of business, as well as who profited and who didn’t.

This historical account charts how physicists researching optics and semiconductors laid the groundwork for the internet, broadband, computers, and mobile devices that have come to define the contemporary world. It also shows how Microsoft and other software makers capitalized heavily off of their technological predecessors’ work, creating unprecedented levels of wealth, and accounting for a full seven percent of the US gross domestic product and vastly more jobs. There’s a personal element here: McCarney holds more than sixty patents, the windfalls from which were life-changing, but which are nothing compared to the riches that the software developers who relied on his work can boast.

Blue-chip hardware makers have largely faded, the book shows, while five technology companies specializing in software, internet, or social media now comprise a whopping twelve percent of market capitalization of all US publicly traded companies.

The book becomes an inquiry into how software makers reaped vastly bigger fortunes than the hardware creators who made it all possible. It thoroughly drives home its points, including with an extensive quiz that asks readers to guess how much various inventors earned for creating DARPA, the fiber-optic wire, and the integrated circuit as compared to Snapchat, Facebook, and other wildly successful tech enterprises that expanded upon the infrastructure of earlier innovations.

The writing is smart, lively, and accessible. The book often takes a conversational tone, sounding like a seasoned insider explaining to a curious party guest how things really work.

The book elucidates how the US patent system heavily favors corporate interests over the brilliance of individual researchers to the point where “royalties are never paid” on patent license fees. It charts how it became harder for independent creators to reap the rewards of their inventions, and lays out how hardware enterprises were risky, capital-intensive enterprises, while software development is low-risk and requires little capital—in fact, little more than a laptop.

The work can at times be heavy-handed, repeating the same points again and again without drawing deeper conclusions or addressing the bigger picture. But it’s well-organized, introducing the author’s background, summarizing its main points, following a chronological historical narrative, and summarizing everything for emphasis. The book offers many incisive insights. Despite its emphasis on inequity, it never feels like a rant. The motivation here is more educational than spiteful.

The book’s ending is comparatively anticlimactic and shallow, proffering little more than career advice to end a sweeping and deeply intelligent look at the history of an industry that has done more to shape the modern world than any other.

Inventions that Built the Information Technology Revolution is an insightful look at the technological underpinnings of the modern world, and a realistic, no-holds-barred accounting of who’s benefited and who’s been shortchanged.

Kirkus Reviews

A debut book analyzes the way intellectual property law influences invention and the distribution of wealth.

McCarney landed his first job as a physicist at a corporate lab in the 1980s, and when he was laid off four years later, he began writing patent applications. Although assembling an intellectual property portfolio was more a diversion than a career for the author, through a series of serendipitous accidents, he was able to sell it for a considerable sum. But, McCarney argues, his circumstance—an inventor handsomely benefiting from his creation—was a happy aberration. More often than not, inventors and scientists are the least likely to be compensated for a product’s success. Because claims to intellectual property are adjudicated by attorneys and corporations are always better equipped for legal battles than inventors, the victor in such disputes is all but ordained. According to the author, on a larger scale, technological innovation is actually driven by intellectual property law and the business strategies devised in response to it. For example, the contemporary enthusiasm for software development at the expense of hardware enhancement is largely determined by these factors. The consequence of this is that the legal regime designed to foster innovation actually chokes it, ultimately stymieing scientifically creative pursuits. In addition, the rise of information technology as a central compartment of global commerce has contributed to a historically unprecedented concentration of breathtaking wealth amassed in a very short period of time. McCarney’s breadth of discussion is impressive—he covers the nature of invention itself as well as some of the most significant technological achievements of recent years, like optical fiber, diode lasers, and the field-effect transistor. Furthermore, the position he furnishes is both exactingly argued and refreshingly original. But there’s a lot of technical content, and the author’s treatment of it can be short of accessible and sometimes unnecessary. And he’s occasionally inclined toward panting exaggeration: “As we begin this story, remember that large corporations seek first and foremost to destroy every spark of independent invention. Corporate leaders and their attorneys dismember puppies and immolate kittens. And they enjoy it.”

A painstaking account of the intersection of money, law, and creativity.

Formats
Ebook Details
  • 02/2018
  • 978-1-4834-7905-7
  • 228 pages
  • $8.99
Paperback Details
  • 03/2018
  • 978-1-4834-8094-7
  • 190 pages
  • $14.99

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